Articles Draft Prep

Running Back Vision 2.0 – Part I

The 2019 combine has happened, some pro days have happened or will be over the next few weeks, and the draft will soon be upon us. Many of us are reading everything we can to speculate on the moves of our favorite franchise. Still many others are soaking in every piece of data that comes out to prepare for our upcoming dynasty rookie drafts or potential startup drafts.

My dynasty rookie draft strategy tends to lean toward drafting rookie running backs primarily because their value seems to peak faster than receivers or any other position. This allows me to flip those picks quickly into the receivers my teams typically need. This is why I spend most of my “dynasty off-season” focusing on running backs. This is why I designed Running Back Vision (RBV). It is still very much in it’s infancy, and should be expected to mature as my film analysis skill set grows.

Running Back Vision 2.0

The Vision

Last draft prep season, a few people that I listen to and/or read their content inspired me to create something that gives us dynasty addicts a quick reference for decision making come rookie draft time. Also, there was a goal to make the assessment of each prospects film to be as objective as possible. Unlike other people’s grading systems that are focused on the quality of traits of a prospect’s game, Running Back Vision focuses on the prospect’s consistency in demonstrating a trait on tape with no consideration for quality. The reason for this is that I understand my current limitations in evaluating tape, but I felt this could add some value to the community. As my tape watching improves my hope is that Running Back Vision will evolve towards adding an element pertaining to quality.

The Evaluation

Essentially, each snap of a four game (or minimum 80 snaps) sample is analyzed. Carries are charted in a binary fashion for these categories: vision, burst, balance, and power. Blocking reps are charted separately as are routes run. Below is what I look for on each rep for each category:

  • Vision:
    • Did the prospect identify and approach the running lane?
    • Did the prospect identify when a designed gap was closed and adjust to the open space?
    • At the second level and beyond did the prospect show evidence of setting up defenders to avoid tackles or impact pursuit angles?
  • Burst:
    • Was there an obvious acceleration displayed by the prospect?
    • Did the prospect suddenly increase the space between himself and a defender?
  • Balance:
    • Did the prospect stay on his feet after contact?
    • Unlike the above categories, the opportunity to display balance is not the same per carry as are vision and burst, and thus these will not show up on the graphic.
  • Power:
    • Did the prospect continue to drive the ball forward once contact occurred?
    • Did the prospect knock back or knock to the ground a defender?
    • Unlike the above categories, the opportunity to display power is not the same per carry as are vision and burst, and thus these will not show up on the graphic.
  • Blocking:
    • Did the prospect engage a defender in pass/run blocking?
    • Did the prospect succeed? (success is charted when the defender being blocked was unable to make the play, failure is charted if the prospect gets blown up or whiffs)
  • Route
    • Did the prospect run a route where there was a real opportunity for the quarterback to consider him as a target? (i.e. not quick play action where the prospect ends up in the flat after the ball is long gone)
    • Targets are charted as well and notes are taken regarding how they approach catching the ball

The benefit of being zoomed in on each play is the fact that often the metric surprise me after an evaluation is complete. The evaluation process is at least keeping me objective.

The Graphic

The graphic that will accompany each prospect’s review only shows the following information:

  • Prospect’s name, image, school logo
  • Prospect’s metrics in vision, burst, and blocking
  • Film sample data including # of snaps evaluated, the average rank of the prospect’s opposing run defenses and the opponents faced to provide context to the evaluation

The write ups will include the other details about balance, power, receiving skills, etc. In this year’s crop only 14 running backs were evaluated. While this likely may have missed some of your Phillip Lindsay types and other quality running backs, the hope is that RBV 2.0 will help sort out the popular names that seem so close together in what they offer in comparison to previous classes.

The Prospects

Over the next few weeks, each prospect’s evaluation will be made available starting from the bottom of the crop and then working our way to the cream. The results somewhat surprised me, but at the end of the day the observations are the observations. These prospects will be revealed in the order of their vision percentage.

#14 Mike Weber

Ohio State’s O-line really shined against Oregon state highlighting that Weber benefits greatly from their level of play. However his vision was demonstrated in a few of his snaps where ball security was clearly on his mind. The awareness and confidence carrying the ball to switch ball carrying hands is impressive especially in combination with stiff arms and cuts. His agility appears to be top-notch which is great to have when he presses the line of scrimmage like he does. Sucking in those second level defenders to open running lanes on the outside occurred a number of times. With his speed, bouncing outside could lead to a lot of big plays. It’s a shame that his vision wasn’t observed more often.

His eyes, brain, and feet all seem to be in sync. It was very seldom to see him have badly timed cuts up field. If his ability to cut and burst up field is as consistent at the next level as they were in the evaluation then he could be dangerous behind a good o-line.

His blocking was stellar as there wasn’t a time where he engaged and clearly lost. He was able to consistently identify his blocking assignment and maintain the block through the play. One time he completely stonewalled a hard-charging linebacker that was clearly bigger than him. He also demonstrated a desire to block downfield which is a nice trait to have. It shows that he wants to contribute even when the ball isn’t in his hands.

Weber lined up as a receiver a number of times in the games observed, but there wasn’t enough evidence of his receiving ability to really understand if he can contribute at the next level. He had an impressive one-handed catch in the flat, but was immediately tackled in the sample observed. He also ran a few wheel routes but was overthrown. Of the five targets observed there were none that demonstrated active hands.

There were very few displays of power, but no one was advertising that as a feature component of his game. With that said he does tend to keep his feet going in that effort to fall forward.

He did display contact balance on 16% of the observed carries. His ability to accelerate after contact is encouraging especially if his vision can improve at the next level.

#13 Benny Snell

Benny Snell seems to really show out once he gets to the second level of the defense, but the challenge is that he seems to be hesitant when the designed hole is unavailable to him in the trenches. He did have a number of demonstrations of patience, pressing the line of scrimmage or allowing blocking to develop. In short yardage situations he appears to have a nose for the line to gain. There was some indication of intelligent running and solid vision at the second level helping out downfield blockers by setting up defenders.

Being able to exploit good vision is the primary reason burst ability should be highly valued. This is why the 10-yard split is so important at the combine; while it shouldn’t elevate a runner’s stock by itself, it certainly can confirm what we see on film. In this case it certainly confirmed what we see. Snell’s estimated 10-yard split (based on combine film) was around 1.71 which is below average. This likely explains why Snell showed a lower occurrence of burst (only 42% of the time – 3rd worst) among evaluated running backs. If this is consistent with his game then we could expect him to be more of a plodder at the next level. While a lack of burst will impact his ability to ever become an RB1, his ability to run tough between the tackles could give him upside as a solid RB2 in the right offense.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get a lot of use as a receiver in the games evaluated which correlates with his career usage (29 receptions, 216 yards). In the sample there were only two targets on eight routes, which means he will likely be relegated to a 2-down role at the next level, especially when consider that he was below average compared to the group in blocking.

Benny Snell is a tough runner if nothing else, but compared to the rest of the crop he was below average in the areas of vision, burst, and blocking. At the next level he will need to continue to develop his decision making and recognition in those less than ideal situations at the line. Snell could be really good behind a solid o-line, but until his landing spot is determined he will remain lower on my list of rookie picks.

#12 Trayveon Williams

Williams, a running back out of Texas A&M, has had a lot of buzz up to the draft, but it appears to have died down since the combine. This could be due to sub par numbers on the 3-cone drill. His 40-yard time was good at 4.51, but his estimated 10-yard split was right at the average of the class. What will Trayveon offer at the next level?

Trayveon’s vision is going to be a question, at least in comparison to the class being ranked 12th of the 14 runners evaluated. His angle selection was questionable a number of times where a sharper cut or a little more patience in stretching the edge would have given him a better outcome. When his eyes do see the field he demonstrates good feet and reaction, keeping otherwise dead plays alive.

Williams’ burst was inconsistent giving him the least consistency of the group. This would be consistent with his estimated 10-yard split of 1.63, leaving room for concern as to whether or not he will be able to consistently take full advantage of great blocking. To his credit, Williams did have a more consistent display of balance (4th for the group) which is great for extending plays especially when you aren’t choosing the running best angles.

Trayveon did excel in areas that will get him on the field on 3rd down. His blocking was the 5th most consistent in the class. He shows a tenacity to maintain blocks and a persistence to stick with his assignment even if initially beat. While running the 4th most routes in his sample, Williams was only targeted six times. This isn’t for lack of getting open, but more likely offensive play design. When he was targeted he did show active hands most of the time.

#11 Miles Sanders

With all the buzz on Sanders and the high dynasty rookie draft rankings I would have expected his metric to come out better, but alas, here we are. The one thing that really sticks out about Sanders is that he is a really smooth runner that showed an ability to be pretty slippery. While comps are the easiest way to get in trouble, Sanders running style reminds me a little bit of LeSean McCoy, but just a little bit.

Sanders’ vision being ranked 11th surprised me, but displaying good vision 60% of the time is still good all things considered. My notes on his good vision reps had numerous mentions of his patience and/or his ability to press the line of scrimmage to suck in those second level defenders. Being able to do this while being slippery is disgustingly good at the next level. Normally, backs with his type of speed (1.53 10-yard split) are quicker to depend on their speed by bouncing outside. Miles showed a willingness to get tougher yards through gaps opened between the tackles. The great thing is that he keeps his eyes up in preparation for the second level.

His burst percentage is one that still baffles me considering his 10-yard split time, but we could potentially chalk this up to a deceptive acceleration and many of his reps where he weaved between defenders via multiple lateral and vertical cuts. This perception of his high level agility is confirmed in his 6.89 3-cone time. His stop-start ability is top-notch as well.

Sanders’ should be able to contribute on the all important third down pretty early in his career. He shows excellent discipline with his hands being consistently active on receptions and he succeeded in blocks about 81% of the time (6th in the group). Penn State trusted him a lot to line up as a wide receiver, and why not when you consider his speed? He seemed to run some sharp routes and he is guaranteed to be a match up problem for linebackers.

While the metrics for this assessment model have him lower in the qualities it evaluates, I still love Sanders as a prospect. He is a joy to watch being so dynamic and complete as a running back.

Next Up…

Keep an ear to the ground for part II of 2019 Running Back Vision which will visit the next 5 prospects.

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A computer systems instructor with a passion for the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles, and fantasy football (especially DFS and dynasty). Trying to crack the tough DFS nut utilizing my computer skills to tailor my research. Meshing my passion and work ethic to provide readers a different perspective on fantasy football analysis.

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